31 May, 2009

More sex please, you’re artists

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Twentieth-century writers, musicians and artists led us in a sexual revolution, but today’s avant garde is as pure as snow

There isn’t enough sex in the arts today. Look back at the 20th century and the whole point of modernism was to liberate the carnal. DH Lawrence, priest of love, competed to shock the last survivors of the Victorian age with James Joyce, who rambled uninhibited to detail Leopold Bloom’s underwear fantasies. In art, Picasso introduced the modern age with his brothel scene Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and the surrealists confessed to unspeakable lusts. Even in classical music, there was a sense of orgasmic release, as is recognised by Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore in their striking comic book Lost Girls, which portrays a riotous erotic encounter at the first night of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

I’m not saying that no one has ever got it on to Philip Glass or been tempted to have a quickie in one of the more remote corners of a Richard Serra installation, but isn’t the avant garde in our time a bit sexless compared with its modernist forebears?

There is a reason for this. In the 1920s, sex was just starting to escape from the confines of Victorianism. Today it is merchandised, advertised, the stuff of small talk. For the first modernists, the erotic was self-evidently subversive. Today, it’s hard to believe liberation or aesthetic renewal can lie in something so banal.

Until you try it for yourself. Sex is just as much fun today as it was in Picasso’s time. All those atheists are always going on about God, putting adverts on buses to declaim their lack of belief – but why don’t they just point out that sex is more satisfying than prayer? And holier?

Critics worry about why people would rather see a terrible film than a great play, why they’d rather read a trashy magazine than a book, and why the most god-awful dance music sells more than Steve Reich. It’s because of the sex, stupid. If high art wants our attention, it needs to turn us on.

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